G.K. Chesterton on Hard Times


G.K. Chesterton, a nineteenth and twentieth century writer of many kinds, writes this about the tone  Charles Dickens’ novel, Hard Times:

For it is the expression of a righteous indignation which cannot condescend to humour and which cannot even condescend to pathos. Twenty times we have taken Dickens’ hand and it has been sometimes hot with revelry and sometimes weak with weariness; but this time we start a little, for it is inhumanly cold; and then we realise that we have touched his gauntlet of steel. (p. 96)

I have not read much of Dickens’ twenty or more novels. I have read A Christmas Carol and this novel, Hard Times. So, I didn’t, and couldn’t noticed the difference in tone. I see it now at some level, but I still don’t have the reference compare this novel with his others. I will need to read others (luckily this semester, I will be reading Great Expectations.

Chesterton continues speaking about Hard Times:

 It may be bitter, but it was a protest against bitterness. It may be dark, but it is the darkness of the subject and not of the author. He is by his own account dealing with hard times, but not with a hard eternity, not with a hard philosophy of the universe. nevertheless, this the one place in his work where he does not make us remember human happiness by example as well as by precept. This is, as I have said, not the saddest, but certainly the harshest of his stories. It is perhaps the only place where Dickens, in defending happiness, for a moment forgets to be happy. (p. 99)

Chesterton also says:

…in Hard Times even [Dickens’] sympathy is hard. (p. 99)

This short commentary on this Dickens novel has been very helpful in thinking about what I have just read–especially putting this novel among Dickens’ other novels, and in context with the literature and politics and people of the time as well.


Criticisms and Appreciations of the Works of Charles Dickens by G.K. Chesterton


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